The Numbers Never Add Up

There’s little mystery to why many Americans distrust Congress: the numbers its members offer as hard facts are often exposed as pure fiction.

Take the numbers offered recently by Rep. Aaron Schock, the Illinois Republican who resigned his House seat, effective March 31, “following revelations of lavish spending, payments to donors for flights on private jets and improperly categorized expenses.” (Source links at

According to a March 17 report by Politico, “Schock billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car between January 2010 and July 2014… (but) when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014 it had roughly 80,00 miles on the odometer.”

Note to Congress: If you want to hide “lavish spending” from journalists, make the math to prove it is harder than 170,000 – 80,000 = 170,000 or else you’re a goner.

Goner is you’d call the one-time savings promised by the expanded crop insurance program in the 2014 Farm Bill. We all remember how trading embarrassing direct payments to farmers for better crop insurance programs was going to save billions of taxpayer dollars, right?

Well, just a year after that deal was done, the University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) now pegs total costs for federal crop insurance from 2014 through 2018 at $24 billion, or about $2.5 billion more than the direct payment scheme the “cost-saving” insurance plan replaced.

Moreover, figures FAPRI, crop insurance payments from 2015 to 2024 will total about $85 billion, or 27 percent more than the program cost in the previous 10 years.

If there’s a good side to all this bad math it could be that the crop insurance savings Congress promised in 2014 disappeared so fast in 2015 that no one on Capitol Hill has had a chance to even miss it, let alone remember it.

Of course, that brand of here-today/gone-tomorrow math is deeply embedded in Congress where members talk endlessly about cutting waste, targeting benefits and balancing budgets. Then, when it’s time to turn all the warm-milk chatter into hard cheese, well, out goes the waste cutting, benefit targeting and budget balancing.

For proof, witness the 2016 federal budget proposal introduced by House Budget Committee March 17.

In the run-up to its release, members had whispered loudly that the blueprint would include instructions to cut $20 billion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. When the budget was released, however, it included just $1 billion in cuts to USDA spending, not SNAP exclusively, over the coming 10 years.

Again, when even journalists can do the math (Uh, let’s see, $1 billion is not $20 billion, so…) it’s all but certain someone will ask what happened to the earlier, tough talk about cutting USDA programs.

When someone did ask, House members quickly pointed to the budgetary fine print that revealed Republican plans to make SNAP a “block grant program”—essentially send the food money to the states to spend whatever way they choose—while cutting total SNAP funding by $140 billion over the next decade.

So, they did it, right?

Not really. First, the GOP-led House failed in an attempt to do something similar in the run-up to the 2014 Farm Bill and no one sees a second attempt succeeding, or even being attempted, now.

Second, according to the New York Times, the House budget blueprint achieves balance 10 years from now only through the “sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.”

In fact, those sleights are so outrageous, explained Chris Van Hollen, the House Budget Committee’s senior Democrat, to the Times that they take “budget quackery to a whole new level.”

Course, that’s a bit rich from a colleague of member who recently spent four years subtracting 80,000 from 170,000 and still came up with 170,000.

Then again, that’s just Congress.

© 2015 ag comm

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